A Re-Review of the film Finding Forrester (2000)

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I have viewed “Finding Forrester” during three different times in my life: when I turned 20, in my mid-20s, and this year at the precious age of 33 years old.  I have learned a lot from seeing it this time around.  Some of my life circumstances have changed.  This includes being more mature, having a greater appreciation for literature and film (and their finer elements – sounds so arrogant… scoff scoff, places pipe in mouth and crosses leg in armchair by fireplace while the light reflects off of my class of 98 class ring), and my becoming a writer.  I can identify with the difficulty of the process of writing, of the revision process (plus I was a writing tutor at the UMD Writing Center during the past year), and the mixed emotions one has over a finished piece of work. 

When I was 20 years old,  I found “Finding Forrester” to be a decent movie.  The movie featured a relationship between an older man and reclusive writer, William Forrester (played by Sean Connery), and a younger man, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown).  I recall a touching, yet slow-moving movie about the influence of Forrester’s mentoring (in writing and life) and how in the end Wallace touched Forrester’s life (a spin on the usual mentor-changes-young-man-or-woman). 

In my mid-20s, the movie was bit more interesting but slow-paced.  It continued to fester in my movie collection for another 5-6 years before it was due for another review.  Upon rewatching it for the third time, or at least third time period, in my life, I found the movie astounding, subtle, and beautiful.  In “Finding Forrester,” there are the subtleties of a youth finding his way into manhood, but also there are the complexities of a hermit who was once a prize-winning author and how this older white gentleman was able to form a bond with a young black youth from the poor part of the neighborhood. What they had in common was their intellectual fervor, their passion for writing, and their integrity as people.  Their witty banter, their growth as characters when confronted with conflicts, and their influence on each other also made this movie captivating.

At the ripe age of 33 years old, I was able to pick up more of the subtleties – many of which had flown over my head when I was younger.  These minor details appeared to make the movie “boring” and “slow-moving” when I was younger.  First of all, the contrast between these two characters were striking yet Forrester slowly let his guard down as the movie progressed.  His first introduction was scaring Wallace out of his apartment when he tried to claim an artifact from a bet with his friends.  Forrester appeared grumpy, scary, and a bit of an urban legend.  However, later on he returned Wallace’s backpack, and also revised all of Wallace’s writing in his journals. 

As their friendship blossomed, we learn more about Forrester.  Forrester is a prize-winning author, he had only published one novel many decades ago, he was an eccentric man (such as reading the “National Inquirer” every night for his “dessert”), and he had a complete and utter fear of being in public.  The audience continues to learn that he had fought in a war and later how the death of his brother had shaped his attitudes in life and has altered his life direction.  As Wallace was the only person he trusted beside his attendant or errand boy, he also begins coaching the youth in the fine art of writing.

In the process of writing, there is nothing harder than getting started.  There is always a better time to start and another time where one will be “inspired” – I should know.  I’ve waited some 15 years to finally bloom as a writer and have the courage to put words, lots of words, on paper (or on the computer) each day.  Forrester made Wallace conduct an exercise called “free writing” or “stream of consciousness” where he simply has to sit down and type anything and any words until the actual words begin to flow.  This is by no means an easy exercise.  Author Julia Cameron has written beautiful words about the writing process in two of her books that I had read: “The Artist’s Way” and “The Right to Write” (the latter given to me by a mentor named Sheila: thank you!).  Cameron compared the process of free writing to untapping a faucet and it is by all means true.

The true subtleties in the movie lies in the great dialogue, the character development, and the way in which the plot unfolds.  Wallace always has a smart-alecky response ready for any adults which step in his boundaries, Forrester always has an insult and lesson ready whenever Wallace becomes cheeky, and we are able to observe real change in the characters’ personalities as the movie progresses.  Forrester slowly, subtly, and sometimes even violently lets down his guard whenever Wallace is visiting him in his apartment, and painfully reveals the details of his life as the movie progresses.  Forrester finds it difficult to trust Wallace and make s him swear that their relationship and the writing that they conduct in the apartment remains one hundred percent private.  Also, we are able to see Wallace develop as a writer and student, and to show true integrity when he is accused of academic dishonesty yet doesn’t try to buy his way out of it by winning the school’s basketball state championships. 

Another similarity that I’ve spotted is that the movie basically runs with the exact template as the film “Scent of a Woman” (1992) starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell.  This movie involved an underprivileged prep school student who has to spend Thanksgiving weekend taking of a blind and bitter Lieutenant Colonel in order to pay for his plane ticket back to Washington state during Christmas.  They ended up spending a weekend in New York City and O’Donnell’s character prevented the Pacino’s suicide attempt, Pacino helps O’Donnell with a school crisis, and while Pacino’s character was changed forever from his interaction with the youth, he had also ended up bailing out the student in a public school forum the way Forrester did to Wallace at their prospective schools.  The similarities are all there, and despite almost being a decade apart and ready for a reboot, “Finding Forrester” stands on its own and is a fine film in its own right.

I would totally recommend this movie to anyone.  Four stars!

Have a great day! 😀

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